Embarkation went pretty smoothly, though I guess I was supposed to know that the sign reading "Fun Card Passengers" really means "if you pre-registered online, use this line." The CCL employee processing our check-in must have been confused by my having all our documents and passports out and ready because she kept asking for them, not seeing them sitting right in front of her.
Our sailing was delayed by at least 90 minutes for some reason which seemed to throw off everything for the remainder of the cruise. Everything that evening (all shows, piano bar, Karaoke, etc.) was at least 30 minutes late (except the dining rooms which stayed on schedule).
Food was good, but not what I'd call great. Portion sizes were excellent (not too much, not too little) and the variety was good. Appetizers in particular were very good and a good variety was offered. I only had a salad once (and it tasted like it was out of the bags in the grocery store), opting for 2 different appetizers instead.
Entertainment overall was so-so. The production shows were surprisingly good with the best production I've seen yet. The Fantasy class ships have a huge stage equipped with a turntable and excellent lighting. The sound systems are very good quality without being way too loud. The talent is as good as you'd expect, slightly above that of a show at a theme park but not as good as a traveling Broadway show at a medium sized city. Entertaining overall.
The comedians were another story. The "Welcome Aboard" show featured Tim Wilkins. We also caught his midnight "R-rated" show the following evening. The first show was not very good and it was obvious that this was a comedian not used to not working blue. The midnight show was much much funnier. The 3rd night featured Carl Faulkenberry. He was difficult to watch he was so bad. Zero big laughs and a smattering of nervous laughs from time to time. It was like a train wreck though, we couldn't leave, we had to see if it would get any worse.
The show on the 3rd night also featured Alex Romanov, a magician with a lot larger of an act than you'd expect on a cruise ship. 7 assistants and a bunch of equipment. The act was plagued with technical problems which made the closeup magic (i.e. card tricks) not work very well in such a large room. It was still entertaining though a bit frustrating.
Drink service was spotty the whole cruise. The only place it was consistently good was on the Lido deck mid day. We had to flag down bar waiters at the shows each time and even then we didn't get our drinks until the show was nearly over.
Photos must be a big big money maker because I counted at least a dozen different backdrops for posed photos. The only candid shots that were being taken were at dinner, all the rest were very formulaic (life preserver around the neck on the Lido deck, disembarking at the port with the Mayan warrior, etc.). The photo staff was not very accommodating. It was take it or leave it. We wanted to buy 6 copies of a group shot of the 8 of us, but wanted the smaller 6x9 prints rather than the 8x10 they'd printed. The photo manager refused to print anything else until we'd purchased the 8x10. She lost a $60 sale. They also printed about 75% of the photos as 8x10's and the rest as 6x9's, I saw no 5x7's the whole cruise. It's all about $$$ I guess.
This was our first visit to both Key West and Cozumel. They were okay but I have no interest in returning to either. Key West was much more touristy than I expected and none of the excursions offered were interesting at all. There were far too many T-shirt shops and not enough character to the town. How many Diamonds International shops does the world need anyway?
Cozumel was a bit better as it had some more character. We did the 4x4 Jungle excursion and had a blast tearing down the sandy trail toward the deserted beach with the taco lunch waiting for us. We also got to go through some residential areas on our way to the other side of the island getting to see a lot more of the real Cozumel than those who stuck to the shops near the dock and the downtown area. We got caught in the middle of a political rally on the way back to the ship which was very interesting (and a little unnerving at first until we figured out what it was).
The cruise director was pretty good but I got tired of the constant berating to have fun "this is your vacation!" at shows, on the Lido deck and via announcements. I don't remember this from our RCI cruise several years back. I do remember this from our first CCL cruise ~10 years ago. One thing that really bugged me about the cruise director was her comments during the disembarkation talk. She insisted that the surveys we received should be marked "exceeded our expectation" and that one bad experience shouldn't color opinions about a particular area. Huh? She went on to explain that even if this wasn't your first cruise that "met my expectations" wasn't the norm, "exceeded" was. I despise when a company asks for my opinion and then tries to tell me how to fill out the survey, this was particularly bad.
The casino was very kind to me as I turned a $50 investment in nickles into $350, pretty much paying for all our excursions, booze, souvenirs, and the $21 3-minute phone call on board. Casino staff couldn't have been better though drink service was just as non-existent in the casino as it was in the show lounge. Our fellow cruisers weren't happy to see my wife come turn $.50 into $40 with 2 spins of a quarter slot machine either. She was in there for a grand total of 5 minutes including the trip to the cashier to turn the bucket of change into something more portable.
The cabin was a good size (bigger than RCI) and was well maintained. The only time we saw our steward was when we asked for extra pillows and inquired about the washcloths (only cabins with windows got them for some reason and only got 1).
Disembarkation went pretty smoothly was well. The only hangups were passengers who couldn't follow directions (have your sail & sign cards out, have your customs forms out, etc.).
Overall it was fun and a reasonably good value but I think this will be our last Carnival cruise. There are just too many other choices out there and I'd rather spend a little extra $$$ and get a little more elegance and a little less of the crew yelling at me to have a good time and buy a photo of the experience.